Handling Moral Objections to the Old Testament

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 1

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 1 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 2: The Case of Slavery

Peter Williams – Page Lecture Series – Moral Objections to the Old Testament – Part 2: The Case of Slavery from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Violence and War in the Old Testament

Sproul01Why in the Old Testament does God demand so much violence and war of the Jewish nation?

Dr. R. C. Sproul answers:

One of the most difficult episodes for us to handle as people who live on this side of the New Testament are the Old Testament records of what is called the herem. This is where God calls Israel to embark in what we could call a holy war against the Canaanites. He tells them to go in there and wipe out everyone—men, women, and children. They were forbidden to take prisoners and were to utterly destroy and put the ban, or curse, upon this land before they occupied it for themselves.

When we look at that, we shrink in horror at the degree of violence that is not only tolerated but seemingly commanded by God in that circumstance. Critical scholars in the twentieth century have pointed to that kind of story in the Old Testament as a clear example that this couldn’t be the revealed Word of God. They say that this is the case where some bloodthirsty, ancient, seminomadic Hebrews tried to appeal to their deity to sanction their violent acts and that we have to reject that as not being supernaturally inspired interpretations of history.

I take a different view of it. I am satisfied that the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God and that God did in fact command the Jewish nation to institute the herem against the Canaanites. God does tell us in the Old Testament why he instituted that policy against the Canaanite people. It’s not as though God commanded a group of bloodthirsty marauders to come in and kill innocent people. Rather, the background was that the Canaanites were deeply entrenched in unrestrained forms of paganism that involved even such things as child sacrifice. It was a time of profound inhumanity within that nation. God said to Israel, “I am using you here in this war as an instrument of my judgment upon this nation, and I’m bringing my violence upon this unbelievably wicked people, the Canaanites.” And he said, “I’m going to have them destroyed” (Deut. 13:12-17). In effect, he said to the Jewish people, “I want you to understand something: I’m giving to the Canaanites their just deserts, but I’m not giving them into your hands because you’re a whole lot better. I could put the same kind of judgment on your heads for your sinfulness and be perfectly justified to do it.” That’s basically the sense of what God communicated to the Jews.

He said, “I am calling you out of my grace to be a holy nation. I’m tearing down in order to build something new, and out of what I build new, a holy nation, I’m going to bless all of the people in the world. Therefore, I want you to be separated, and I don’t want any of the influences of this pagan heritage to be mixed into my new nation that I’m establishing.” That is the reason he gives. People still choke on it, but if God is, indeed, holy—as I think he is—and we are as disobedient as I know we are, I think we ought to be able to handle that.

The Bible and Genocide

question2Question: Why does the Bible condone genocide? Was that just the Old Testament “god” who demanded that? It is clear that in the book of Joshua, God commanded the Jews to utterly wipe out people groups that inhabited Canaan. If this is so, why didn’t Jesus denounce him? Christians often try to avoid this question, it seems to me.

Response (from monergism.com): Actually, I am surprised that it should be avoided as it gives us one of the clearest pictures of one of the most important truths in the Bible: That not only did God take the lives of those he ordered the Israelites to kill (such as the Canaanites) – He also takes the life of everyone on earth. The peoples of Canaan were perhaps dealt out the death penalty earlier than they may have expected; but in essence, their lot was no different than ours. We are all subject to death. Death, as the Bible reveals, is the just penalty exacted for Adam’s disobedience in the garden (Genesis 2:16-17; Rom. 5:12-14). So not only may God take life as he sees fit – he does take the life of every last human on earth (see Heb. 9:27). We should not lose the shock of this fearful truth: death is not natural, it is not a normal process of time and chance, it is not a necessary mechanism of evolution. Humans were created to live, and the fact that they do not bespeaks a terrifying truth – we are all born under divine wrath and judgment.

Indeed we must therefore yield to the fact that God is God and we are not. He alone is the Creator, the Giver of Life – and so he, too, is the Taker of Life. He takes life from whomever he will, whenever he will, and however he wants (1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21; Deut 9:4-6, 10:14; Isaiah 45:5-7). Even if we take nothing else into consideration, that alone is more than sufficient cause for us to “lay our hands upon our mouths” (see Job 38-42, esp. 40:4). Doesn’t the potter have a right to make one vessel for honorable use, and another vessel for dishonorable use, from the same lump of clay (Isaiah 45:9-10; Rom. 9:19-24)? Well then, so does God, who created humans from the dust, have the right to do with all of them however he sees fit?

In Deuteronomy 9:4-6 God himself gives the reason for his command to slaughter the Canaanites; but it is of great importance that we also notice the following passage, where God declares that the Israelites were no less wicked than the Canaanites, and deserved the same fate:

4 “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob 6″Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

Deut 7:7″The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

This latter passage directly relates Israel’s mandate to destroy the Canaanites and possess their land to what God had done for Israel in Egypt; therefore, it is vital to understand how God had just redeemed the nation of Israel. The climactic event marking Israel’s exodus from slavery was the Passover; and in the Passover, the people all had to paint a lamb’s blood on their doors so the angel of death would pass over their home (Exodus 11-15). If they did not apply the blood of the lamb, their firstborn would have been taken just like the rest of the Egyptians – they deserved the same judgment and only escaped it by the blood of the lamb. Continue reading